parashas: Zealousness

B”H

Shiur for parashas Pinchas 5780

Discord was sown, when the advice that Balaam gave to Balak, was enacted upon the Children of Israel. Although Balak was not able to curse Israel, being compelled instead to bless, he still managed to set up circumstances in an underhanded manner, whereby the kedushah (holiness) and emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael would be diminished. He knew that the only way to bring about malfeasance upon Israel was to cause them to sin; as a consequence, G-d would have to respond to Israel’s transgression.
Balak and Balaam conspired against Israel; and they sent out Moabite and Midianite women to entice Israel. “And the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3, JPS).
The kindling of H’Shem’s anger resulted in the form of a plague. Although the guilty were hanged after a makeshift court was held with the leaders of Israel residing, and a follow up by the judges of Israel further eliminated those who sinned in this incident, apparently, the plague continued to spread. The children of Israel were weeping, signifying teshuvah (repentance) outside of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moses and Aaron were present at the Mishkan, when an Israelite prince brought a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of everyone present outside the Mishkan.
The response was swift: Pinchas executed the Israelite man and his cohort. “So the plague ceased from the people of Israel.” For this zealous act, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace. As the Talmud explains, “The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moses, ‘Be the first to extend a greeting of peace to him,’ as it is written, wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace; and this atonement [that Phinehas has made] is worthy of being an everlasting atonement” (Sanhedrin 82b) .

Pinchas demonstrated remarkable zealousness towards H’Shem; yet, the action that he took was an exceptional case. Today, H’Shem would like us to show our devotion to Him through our avodah (prayer of the heart), and our ma’asim tovim (good deeds). Shabbat shalom.

parashas Pinchas 5780

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Reflections: A Balancing Act

B”H

When our environs do not bring us peace and contentment, what is the proper course of action? Where is the remedy to be found? I believe that within the midst of our nisyanos (troubles), G-d must be sought out for solace; otherwise, our peace of mind would be relative – dependent upon ever changing circumstances. What other resource is as potent as the Omnipotent?

There is a maxim, expressed in various forms, that happiness is to be found within ourselves. Yet, I prefer to reframe this adage, “true contentment is found within our connection to G-d.” This becomes more apparent, considering the overall inability of anyone to remain completely stable, having a disposition of equanimity towards all things, in every situation.

At least, I can certainly speak for myself, inasmuch that it is not within my own power to be the cool, calm, and collected kind of person that I once used to be. Hence, I seek out G-d in every moment, in order to connect with His higher wisdom. I also seek out lesser means, such as good music to comfort the soul, journaling to express my emotions and inner feelings about this, that, and the other in life; and, additionally, I make sure to exercise, in order to work out the stress that manifests in my body.

My own personal discontent with certain circumstances in my life, may only be a reflection of my spiritual impoverishment. Perhaps, in the past, before my religious, aka, “spiritual journey” began, I may have been more content with worldly endeavors and creature comforts. Yet, as is demonstrated by Moshe’s own personal encounter with G-d, as well as other scriptural narratives, the way to ruchnius (spirituality) is opposed to gashmius (materiality), despite any attempt to reconcile the two; otherwise, the endeavor is compromised, and the soul remains in stasis, along with the status quo.

Case in point, if there is a constant struggle between the yetzer hara (literally, evil inclination) and the yetzer tov (good inclination), each inclined towards its corresponding realm of preference, then the soul is subject to one or the other at any given moment; those who are unaware of this battle, nor the presence of these two inclinations, are at a disadvantage, as dominance is given to the yetzer hara by default, otherwise known as the “animal soul.”

Chassidism teaches that there needs to be a balance between the “godly soul,” and the “animal soul;” yet, this seems like a compromise to me; besides, I have never been able to find that balance. Rather, I am compelled to make a sharper delineation between the two, than is often mentioned in certain chassidic sources.

The balance to be found is then relegated to the peace of mind that results, by staying focused on H’Shem; also, to look towards Olam Haba (the World to Come), instead of becoming entangled in Olam HaZeh (This World), to the extent that we can not see the forest for the trees.

foundation of harmony

B”H

Omer Count: Day 20

foundation within harmony

From where is your harmony derived in your life? Upon what kind of foundation do you build your peace of mind? Do you have a lasting peace of mind? Is there something that will contribute to the restoration of your soul, when you might be thrown off balance by the world? A strong foundation is a sure and lasting one, that will provide shelter from the storms of life. Harmony and inner peace must be maintained, through returning, and returning again, each and every day of our lives to our central focus in life. If our focus is on G-d, then true peace is attainable through His presence.

humility of harmony

B”H

hod shebbe tiferes

humility within harmony

Humility may serve to temper a false sense of harmony within, by compelling a soul to recognise that any sense of inner peace is often fragile, especially if that peace is not drawn from a higher source. Are we willing to admit to ourselves, that we are dependent on many circumstances, needs, and expectations to maintain our peace? To think otherwise is to lack honesty with ourselves, for the only way to transcend the requirements that we set for ourselves to bring us peace, a fragile peace, is to turn to G-d for our strength.

weekly reading: Vayikra

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayikra 5780

“When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Hebrew word for offering is korban. The shoresh (root word) of korban is KRV, meaning “to draw near.” Therefore, the act of bringing an offering has the connotation of drawing near to H’Shem. According to Akeidas Yitzchak, the olah offering, in particular represents prayer from the heart, because the olah completely ascends to H’Shem. Therefore, in like manner that the entire animal brought as an olah offering is consumed on the mizbeach (altar), so too, will our prayers of the heart ascend to G-d.

Interestingly enough, the name associated with the korbanot is H’Shem (YHVH), the name that denotes H’Shem’s Attribute of Mercy. Since the korban is not associated with the name, Elokim that represents the Attribute of Justice, the implication is that an offering permits us to draw near to H’Shem, because of His mercy towards us: for, although the world was first created with the Attribute of Justice, denoted by the name Elokim (the name of G-d that first appears in the Creation narrative), later, the name H’Shem (YHVH) appears, because the world could not survive without Mercy (see Rashi, Genesis 1:1).

H’Shem’s Attribute of mercy makes an allowance for reconciliation through atonement, by way of a korban. The first offering was made for mankind by H’Shem, for the sake of Adam and Chava, when they disobeyed Him and ate from the Tree of Good and Evil. Furthermore, He covered them with clothes derived from the offering (see Genesis 3:21). That an offering was indeed made is alluded to by a particular commentary that speaks of the mate of Leviathan being slayed by G-d, in order to clothe Adam and Chava (Chizkuni, R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 3:21).